`This is a new beginning,' Columbia Council told

State legislators attend group's inaugural meeting

May 16, 2004|By Laura Cadiz | Laura Cadiz,SUN STAFF

At the Columbia Council's inaugural meeting, local elected officials referenced the group's past differences over state legislation to limit the revenue that the Columbia Association can collect from skyrocketing real estate values and urged it to work collegially.

"This is a new beginning for you all and an opportunity to put past differences behind you," Del. Neil F. Quinter, a Howard County Democrat, told the 10-member council Thursday night.

The council's new one-year term marks a shift in balance of the group, which also acts as the Columbia Association's board of directors.

After last month's elections, the council has a new majority. Six of the 10 members usually are more critical of Columbia Association staff and supported the successful state legislation that is to impose a 10 percent cap on revenue growth from rising property assessments in the calculation of the association's annual charge.

The legislation was drafted by Del. Shane E. Pendergrass, a Howard County Democrat, who told the council, "I'm really glad I had the opportunity to work with you, and we accomplished something really good for the citizens of Columbia."

Half of the previous council had wanted the state legislation to be voluntary, a feeling hinted at by Sen. Sandra B. Schrader.

"We don't need to be meddling in your business unless you want us to," said Schrader, a Howard County Republican.

A signal of the council's new majority is its new chairman and vice chairwoman: Joshua Feldmark and Barbara Russell, respectively. They have shared minority views in the past but now have majority support.

"I think that the people who voted for Josh and me are committed to having a more civil atmosphere and not letting things get personal or out of control," Russell said.

As chairman, Feldmark said, he wants to ensure that council members feel their issues and views are being fairly acknowledged. He also wants the group to adhere strictly to the Homeowners Association Act guidelines for closed meetings.

The act allows homeowners associations to close meetings for reasons ranging from personnel matters to consulting with legal counsel, and Feldmark said he believes that the group had interpreted such guidelines too broadly in the past.

"I'd like to define it much more strictly," he said. "And if folks still want to have a closed meeting and not meet the stricter definition, they need a two-thirds vote to get it there."

Russell said that she expects the new council will ask for more accountability from the association staff.

"I think that can be done in a very reasonable, rational, businesslike manner," she said.

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